Aquino defends human rights record

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Monday, April 28, 2014

(UPDATED) PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III is pushing back against criticism that his government has done too little to address extrajudicial killings of journalists and others.

Aquino was asked about human rights during a news conference in Malacañang with visiting United States President Barack Obama.

Aquino said his government's track record speaks for itself. He's citing the prosecution of those implicated in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre that killed 58 journalists and civilians.

But Aquino also said sometimes investigators determine journalists weren't killed because of their profession. He said out of respect for privacy, officials don't always disclose what they discover about, in his words, "shall we say, other issues."

Aquino said those who accuse his government of stifling dissent should look at local media where he said criticism of the government is tolerated.

"It is not a policy of the State to silence critics. All you have to do is to turn on the TV, radio or look at any newspaper to find the abundance of criticisms," he said.

Earlier, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Obama to press the Aquino government to fulfill pledges to improve respect for human rights and accountability for serious abuses.

The group observed that Aquino has undertaken reforms in some areas but failed to match rhetoric with meaningful action to end impunity for extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.

"The Philippines remains a risky place to be an outspoken activist or muckraking journalist," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch on Sunday. "People taking on powerful local interests all too frequently make the news as victims, and those responsible for killings are almost never prosecuted." (AP/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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